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Philadelphia Ceili Group

Dance, Food & Drink, Music, Photo Essays, Photos

Big Finish: The 2019 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival

The 2019 Philadelphia Ceili Group Irish Traditional Music & Dance Festival is over, but what a packed, fun-filled festival it was.

We showed you the Thursday night singers night last week, but that was just the beginning of a long weekend of tunes, high stepping, and workshops on how to do everything from play tin whistle to learn a bit of the Irish language to plumb the depths of your Irish heritage.

There was a dance exhibition by the Temple University Dance Team (go Owls!), along with a small orchestra of musicians from the area’s many traditional Irish music sessions, and a superb, intimate concert by piper Ivan Goff and fiddler Katie Linnane. There was a children’s story time, St. Brigid’s cross making, face painting, a hall full of Celtic and Irish vendors, and the kitchen kept on cranking out chow that had people going back for more.

If you were up for a pint or two, that was there, too.

Then, of course, there was the Saturday night finale concert in the ballroom, featuring singer Donie Carroll and Tony DeMarco and his band, the Atlantic Wave.

We have plenty of pictures, courtesy of Denise Foley and Jeff Meade.

Enjoy!

Music, People, Photos, Videos

Singers Night at the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival

The Philadelphia Ceili Group kicked off the 45th  Annual Festival with its time-honored tradition of Singers Night. Hosted by Terry Kane (one half of the popular Jameson Sisters) and dedicated to the late Frank Malley, who was a driving force behind both Singers Night and the Festival itself, last night also brought poignant tributes to other beloved Irish Philadelphia musicians who have recently passed away.

The late Eugene O’Donnell, Kitty Kelly-Albrecht and Eugenia Brennan were all at the forefront throughout the evening, remembered in favorite songs and personal stories. Among the performers who took the stage were Ellen Tepper (the other half of the Jameson sisters) on the harp, Matt Ward, Rosaleen McGill, Jim McGill, Steve Stanislaw, John Handy, Kathleen Warren, Don Simon, Seamus Carmichael, Don Gill, Trish Callahan and Mike Albrecht.

Jeff took some photos and I got some videos. So, if you couldn’t be there in person, enjoy! And join us for the rest of the weekend; tonight’s Rambling House hosted by the River Drivers and the Ceili Dance with the McGillians & Friends starts at 8 p.m., and tomorrow’s day of concerts and activities begins at 11 a.m. and continues throughout the day and evening. For more information, check out the Philadelphia Ceili Group website. Continue Reading

Music

Music, Dance, Workshops, Genealogy, Food and More: The 2019 Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival

Rosaleen McGill has been volunteering for the Philadelphia Ceili Group Traditional Music & Dance Festival since she was 8 or 9 years old. “It was a great tradition in which to grow up. It felt like being raised by a village. And people were always excited to tell me about their instrument or try to teach me a few words of Gaelic or how to make a St. Brigid’s Cross. There was always so much to get involved in and a beautiful range of ages.”

Now, here she is in her early 30s, and it never gets tired. Obviously not, because she’s on the board of the Ceili Group.

Just as obviously, the festival holds an incredible amount of appeal for her—and, she suggests, that’s as it should be, not just for her, but for anyone even the least bit interested in their Irish heritage and culture.

This year’s festival is certainly no exception.

“It’s a unique showcase of Irish culture,” McGill says. “It’s nice to have a culture all your own to dive deep into and examine the traditions and language and stories and the instruments that we have created, and not just celebrate the history, but all facets.” Continue Reading

Dance, Music

Remembering Eugene O’Donnell

The world of Irish music and dance is mourning the passing of the supremely gifted fiddler Eugene O’Donnell. News of his death came Friday, June 28, from his longtime musical partner, multi-instrumentalist and folklorist Mick Moloney.

In the Philadelphia area, he is best known for that partnership. He was also a founding member of the Philadelphia Ceili Group.

As a fiddler, he was renowned for his mastery of slow airs—although he certainly had a broad repertoire—but for many in this region, he was also known as one of the greatest step dancers ever to have taken to the floor.

According to Compass Records, for which he recorded, O’Donnell “began Irish dancing at the age of three and was the first Irish dancer ever to dance on television in London at the age of 12, all the while playing and perfecting Derry-style Irish fiddling. As a teen, O’Donnell won an unprecedented five consecutive All-Ireland dancing championships.”

O’Donnell arrived in Philadelphia from Derry in 1957. From there, it didn’t take long for him to begin sharing his many gifts.

Many recall him for his superb musical skills, but they also remember him as one of the finest, most inventive, and occasionally the most exacting of dance instructors. Continue Reading

Music, Photo Essays, Photos

Beoga Beguiles (Again!)

As Eamon Murray pointed out from the stage in the Ballroom at the Irish Center last night, a lot has changed in the 10 years since Beoga last played here. But the most important thing hasn’t changed: Murray, Liam Bradley, Niamh Dunne, Seán Óg Graham and Damien McKee are still Beoga and still know how to bewitch their audience.

It’s a pretty mean feat to bring 200 people out to listen to trad music on a Thursday night in mid-May with less than a month’s notice, but that is exactly what went down at the concert brought to you by the Philadelphia Ceili Group and the Commodore Barry Arts and Cultural Center last night. Continue Reading

Music

Help Bring a Hot New Band to the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival

FullSet

FullSet

It’s time to pay the piper.

And the fiddler, accordion player, flutist, guitarist, and bodhran player.

In short, the entire band known as FullSet.

You can bring this exciting ensemble of scary-good young musicians to the 40th annual Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival in early September … but the time to raise the cash necessary to hire the band is running short.

The Ceili Group is racing to meet a tight deadline to raise a minimum of $4,000, a substantial chunk of which is required to hire FullSet for the Ceili Group, a three-day extravaganza of Irish music, dance and culture, and one of the highlights of the Philadelphia folk scene.

“We have to have the goal raised by April 1 in order to book FullSet,” says Ceili Group Rosaleen McGill, the Ceili Group member who heard about the band and suggested featuring them at the festival. “Right now, they’re on a contingency. If we can’t meet the goal, we’ll have to release them.”

To bring in the bucks, the Ceili Group is turning to crowd-funding—typically, raising small amounts of cash online with the help of a large number of contributors. There are many crowd-funding websites. The Ceili Group is using a site called indiegogo.

“This is the way a lot of people are raising funds like that,” says McGill. “It’s a reasonable goal. I really trust in our community to help us raise the money and support the festival. The Ceili Group has touched a lot of people. We have a history of 40 years, bringing musicians over to Philadelphia before they hit it big. FullSet is affordable. They’re just coming up. They were up in Bethlehem at the Celtic Connections Festival last year. We’re hoping to tap into anyone who saw them up there.”

There’s another reason to bring FullSet to Philly, aside from their formidable performance skills. They also happen to be great teachers, says McGill. One of the highlights of the festival is the opportunity for up close and personal musical instrument instruction by performers. Some of the world’s finest Irish traditional musicians have shared their knowledge at the event, so making the musicians of FullSet available for workshops to is a real bonus.

Another great musician, the world-renowned singer Seán Keane, has already been booked.

Aside from the money required to hire FullSet, McGill says the Ceili Group hopes to apply some of the website contributions toward improving festival publicity.

“Last year, when we had a grant (from Pew), we did a lot of ads, and they seemed to really get people in the door. That’s another thing we were really going for. The more money we raise, the more if those ad opportunities we can get.”

As of today, the Ceili Group has raised $750 toward its goal, with 39 days left in the campaign. You can help close the gap. Visit igg.me/at/pcg40thfestival

Music

Her Remarkable Career

Joanie and CTL

Joanie and CTL

She’s been described as “irrepressible,” “a force of nature.”

If you’ve seen Joanie Madden in concert, whether as the founder and leader of Cherish the Ladies, a gifted musical collaborator, or as a solo artist, you know it’s all true, and then some.

You’re not alone. In fact, some real heavy hitters also recognize the inexhaustible creativity of champion flute and whistle virtuoso Joanie Madden.

Let’s start with the United States Artists. In 2012, the nonprofit awarded Madden a $50,000 USA Artist Fellowship grant in recognition of her artistry. She’s the first Irish traditional musician to have been so honored.

In 2011, she was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, also because of her contributions to music and to Irish culture in the United States.

Madden, who will join Gabriel Donohue next Friday night for a largely informal Rambling House at the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival, takes it all in stride. Not that she doesn’t feel honored, but she’s so busy doing the very thing that brought her to the attention of those prestigious institutions in the first place: playing her music, seemingly everywhere and all the time.

“I did have a great year, winning the USA Fellowship. That was a big one,” Madden says. “It’s great to have it, and it does make all the hard work worthwhile, but I’d be doing this whether I got the trophy or not.”

Thank goodness for that. Take a look at Madden’s recent musical resume, and it’s clear she has no intention of slowing down, or doing the things that keep the creative juices flowing.

Already a Grammy winner and featured on the final “Lord of the Rings” soundtrack, more recently she contributed to the soundtrack of the BBC America series “Copper.”

Madden has always been in demand as a collaborator on projects outside of her duties with Cherish the Ladies. In 2008, she was featured on the TV show and CD “Absolutely Irish,” which featured a who’s who of Irish musical talent, including Mick Moloney, Seamus Egan, John Doyle, Liz Carroll, and many more. In 2009 she performed on “Pride of New York,” a gem of an Irish traditional recording also featuring Brian Conway on fiddle, Brendan Dolan on keyboards, and accordionist Billy McComiskey.

Probably her most treasured recent collaboration was with her own father, button accordion player Joe Madden, on 2011’s inspiring “A Galway Afternoon.” Also on the CD: Madden’s brother John on drums, pianist Charlie Lennon .. and our own Gabriel Donohue on guitar.

“Galway Afternoon” was easily one of the best CD recordings of Irish that year, and possibly any year. It was another notable triumph.
Of course, what made the album so memorable was the playing of Joe Madden, who was essentially ambushed by his daughter and coaxed into recording, which is not something he ever wanted to do. And what made it so poignant was that Joe Madden’s gift was captured just a few months before he died following a fall in his home.

Madden still feels the loss, but she too is extremely pleased that she was able to capture such an amazing performance, sharing that particular honor with her reluctant dad. “I was just so thrilled that we got it. That’s why you live today and you grab today. He was very happy he made that album, without a doubt.”

With a force like Joe Madden around, it’s not surprising that the family’s Bronx home was a gathering place for many of the best Irish traditional musicians. Still, nothing could have prepared her for her remarkable career.

“When I started out as a musician, the only Irish band that was really making it was The Chieftains,” Madden recalls. “The last thing my parents wanted me to do was to go into the music, except on weekends. I never knew I’d be happy doing that. But I practiced day and night. I just loved it.”

The came a point where Madden knew what truly made her happy, and she made her decision. “I said to my father, ‘I’m going to travel and play my music around the world.’ He said, ‘You’re out of your mind.'”

Later on, of course, Joe Madden came around, she says. “He was just thrilled.”

Collaborations aside, no discussion of Joanie Madden would be complete without mention of Cherish the Ladies, one of the first and most inventive Irish traditional supergroups. Aft 27 years of touring and recording, it’s Cherish the Ladies that continues to dominate her life. Happily, of course.

“My first commitment is a hundred percent to the band,” Madden says.”We’re all great friends, even today. You’re on the road with these guys for so many years, you get to become great, great friends–even like sisters. They’re always there when you need them.”

Which brings us back to where we started. When you think about a Cherish the Ladies concert, there’s no getting past Madden’s incredible humor and her intuitive rapport with the audience. It probably seems like second nature … but it wasn’t always that way. “I got over my shyness on the stage. I realized somebody had to do it. I remember going to see a show with the “Cars,” and they didn’t say anything all night.”

It’s that legendary ebullience, along with her undeniable talents, that have made her who she is today. For that, Madden continues to be grateful, even when the going gets tough.

“Some of our travel days are just torture,” Madden admits. “You get off a plane, and then you have to drive two or three hours. But as soon as you get on the stage, the adrenaline kicks in. I mean, I’m able to out food in the table for blowing the penny whistle. Come on.”

Tickets are still on sale for the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival. Details and schedule here.

Dance, Music

Festival Time Is Just Around the Corner

Nuala Kennedy

Nuala Kennedy

We’re just a year away from the 40th anniversary of the Philadelphia Ceili Group Festival. What started out as a one-day outdoor event at Fischer’s Pool, above Lansdale, is now a three-day celebration of Irish music, dance and culture headquartered at that most Irish of Philadelphia places, the Commodore Barry Club at Carpenter and Emlen in the city’s Mount Airy neighborhood.

We recently chatted with the Ceili Group’s Anne McNiff, to find out what to expect at this year’s festival.

Is it hard for you to believe this is the 39th anniversary?

No, I guess not for me. I’ve only been around for a couple of them. Some of my fellow board members are more generationally tied to it. It might be harder for them to believe. Fischer’s Pool was a big, sprawling property, and it was all outside. That must have been logistically interesting!

What’s new this year?

This year, one of the big changes is that we’re going to have, running currently with the ceili back in the ballroom is a “rambling house” in the Fireside Room in the front of the house. In past years we’ve had a concert on that night, but it just has never taken off the way we would have liked it to. We wanted to have another option for people on Friday night. The rambling house is a little less formal than a concert. Gabriel Donohue is hosting it, and he’s a great entertainer all by himself. He’s hosted the singers’ night in the past, so we know what a good host he is. He’ll invite people to come up and give a song or a recitation. He’ll have the opportunity to invite different musicians to come up and play, maybe along with him, maybe by themselves.

It’s a huge plus that he has relationships with many musicians, not just here in New York, but in New York. He’s gotten Joanie Madden to come here as a guest. She’s certainly going to be a draw. It will be much less formal than what a regular concert would be. That is a big change.

It seems like you have always favorites, some sure-fire hits, like (singer) Matt Ward.

Matt Ward is really a perennial favorite. We get a lot of comments about Matt; he doesn’t sing locally a lot. Frank Malley (longtime festival chairman) was the first to bring him on board. It’s become a tradition for Matt to be invited to come by on Singers’ Night. (Thursday the 12th.) People say they don’t get to see him, except at this place and this time.

Looks like the Saturday workshops are free for Ceili Group members.

Last year we had the lovely opportunity to offer our workshops for free. That aspect of the festival was being funded by a grant. We had such a great response to that. We used it as a way to attract people to the festival, and to get them to commit to membership. It was such a positive thing that, when we talked about what to do differently, we agreed that we wanted to carry that on again this year.

This year we have a couple of new workshops, including an Irish calligraphy workshop. Also very cool and a little bit of a departure, we have local author Kenneth Milano, who will be doing a workshop from 3:30 to 5:30 on the Philadelphia nativist riots.

This year for your Saturday night concert, you have Tony DeMarco’s band, and (singer and flutist) Nuala Kennedy. That’s an interesting pairing.

Tony, of course, has played at Philadelphia Ceili Group events before, so he has to be an old favorite. Nuala Kennedy, on the other hand … she’s new. She’s not played a lot in Philadelphia. She has a big following in Europe, and I believe in New York, I know she tours a lot. She is all over the place.

I saw her some time ago at Gene Shay’s Song Salon. He was hosting it in a small venue that had all kinds of eclectic acts, and Nuala Kennedy was one of them. She and I got to talking. I told her that we do a big festival, and I asked her, is this something you’d be interested in, and she was. Recently, we got back in contact. I found out she tours not just with (guitarist) John Doyle but also with (guitarist, bouzouki player and singer) Eamon O’Leary. I just love the idea of introducing her to a broader Philadelphia audience. People are going to love her.

Want to learn more? Click here for the full lineup.